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Fighting the SARS-CoV-2 Virus with Zinc Compounds

Over the past two and a half years, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has greatly affected all of our lives. In addition to the rapid development and approval of various vaccines, research has also been conducted on therapeutic options to treat the COVID-19 disease. Oral medications that patients could simply use at home are especially desirable. We have prepared and tested zinc compounds that have proven to be very effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The results are also interesting because one of the compounds tested, zinc pyrithione, has been known for a long time and has been shown to have antimicrobial properties (it is used in shampoos to treat dandruff caused by fungi of the Malassezia genus). Studying the use of already known agents to treat other diseases is currently a very popular strategy, as it can significantly shorten the drug approval process.

Zinc is an essential element vital for the functioning of humans and other living organisms and is involved in many biological processes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the research focused on studying the importance of this element or, more specifically, zinc compounds. Zinc was also found to be important in the functioning of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The researchers found that some zinc compounds effectively inhibit the enzymes cathepsin L and PLPro, which allow the virus to enter cells and replicate, respectively. Based on these encouraging results, our Spanish collaborators confirmed the highly potent antiviral activity of zinc pyrithione in an ex vivo system derived from primary human lung tissue. The results of this collaborative research were recently published in the Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry, and further research in this area is ongoing. The discovery of the inhibitory effect of zinc compounds on coronavirus is important to better understand how the virus works and to facilitate the development of potential zinc antiviral drugs. News of this discovery has also been reported on national television [https://365.rtvslo.si/arhiv/prvi-dnevnik/174893819] (appears between 5:40-7:40 min) and elsewhere.

Five scientists from our Faculty and four from Spain were involved in the research: Jerneja Kladnik, Ana Dolinar, Jakob Kljun, David Perea, Judith Grau-Expósito, Meritxell Genescà, Marko Novinec, Maria J. Buzon and Iztok Turel. This study, which lasted just over a year, was financially supported by the Slovenian Research Agency (ARRS).

The figure shows zinc pyrithione inhibiting the entry of SARS-CoV-2 virus into the cell and its replication (illustration by academy-trained painter Simon Kajtna).

Link to the article: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14756366.2022.2108417.

Krka Grand Prize

Every year the well-established Slovenian pharmaceutical company Krka opens the call for applications for the Krka Prize contest. This year a record number of 114 undergraduate and postgraduate students responded to the call and among them 5 Krka Grand Prizes for special research achievements, 25 Krka Prizes and 44 Krka Prizes with special recognition were awarded to the students.

Turel Group is proud to announce that among the applicants, our postdoctoral researcher Dr. Jerneja Kladnik was awarded the Krka Grand Prize for Special Research Achievement for her PhD thesis under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Iztok Turel, in which she focused on the synthesis of biologically active metal complexes with pyrithione and its analogues. Turel Group congratulates Jerneja on this award and wishes her lots of success in her future research!

Successful end of »coronavirus« year 2020 and start of a new one in Turel group

Although coronavirus is still limiting and regulating our daily lives as well as affecting research activities, several positive things worth mentioning happened in our group in the last months of 2020.

In October 2020, a new PhD student (junior researcher) Simona Gričar has started her doctoral studies under the supervision of assist. prof. Jakob Kljun. Her study is funded by ARRS (Slovenian Research Agency) for four years and during this time she will be working on synthesis and evaluation of novel inhibitors of pharmaceutically relevant metalloproteins. Simona successfully finished her Master thesis in our group at FCCT in 2019. After the defense, she was employed for one year at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Ljubljana working on a project researching the role of immunoproteasome in immune response.

In December 2020, a member of our group Jerneja Kladnik also finished her doctoral study. The Turel group thanks and congratulates Jerneja for her successful defense of PhD thesis entitled »Synthesis and biological activity of coordination compounds of pyrithione analogues«. Like many other events in 2020, the dissertation was defended online and Jerneja did an excellent job!

We are also very proud to have obtained funding from our national research agency (ARRS) for a project on Metallo-therapeutics to combat Covid-19 disease. This funding will enable researchers dr. Jerneja Kladnik, dr. Ana Dolinar and MChem. Maša Masič to study new potential effective therapeutic strategies against SARS-COV-2 in 2021.

The Turel group welcomes new team members and hopes for their pleasant and productive stay.


Visit by prof. Lee Cronin

5976-1Professor Lee Cronin from the University of Glasgow, UK has visited our labs in May and held a lecture ‘Towards a general theory of chemical evolution’ for the students of the FKKT doctoral study programme. The national newspaper Delo has at this occasion published an interview with prof. Cronin. You can read it (in Slovenian) here.



New article in Dalton Transactions with Dean’s award

Check out the newest accepted publication of Turel group in Dalton Transactions in collaboration with our colleagues from the Faculty of Pharmacy:

Clioquinol-ruthenium complex impairs tumour cell invasion by inhibiting cathepsin B activity


First author Ana Mitrović has been awarded the Dean’s award for most notable scientific achievements in 2016 at the Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Ljubljana for the research presented in this scientific paper. Congratulations!

Visit by prof. Peter J. Sadler

Professor Peter J. Sadler from the University of Warwick, UK has visited our labs in mid-April and held a lecture fot the students of the FKKT doctoral study programme ‘Chemical Sciences’ entitled ‘The Elements od Life and Medicine’. The national newspaper Delo has in this occasion published an interview with prof. Sadler. You can read it (in Slovenian) here.


Special issue of JIB in occasion of COST CM1105 meeting

The Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry is dedicating its 160th volume (July 2016) to the COST CM1105 action ‘Functional metal complexes that bind to biomolecules’. Within this issue you can find two contribitions of the Turel research group. The first contrubution is entitled ‘Interactions of two cytotoxic organoruthenium(II) complexes with G-quadruplex’ by our former team member Sara Seršen in collaboration with the research team of prof. Janez Plavec from the National institute of Chemistry, Ljubljana, Slovenia. The second paper, entitled ‘Cobalt(II) complexes with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and α-diimines’ continues our successful partnership with prof. George Psomas in the field of structural determination and biological evaluation of 3d transition metal complexes of clinical agents.

Congratulations to Sara Seršen on her PhD

The Turel group congratulates Srara Seršen on her successful defence of her PhD thesis with the title “Synthesis of novel ruthenium complexes with possible biological and catalytic properties“. We wish her all the best and continued success at her new job.

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Off to a new adventure!

After a brief return following her parental leave Sara Seršen has moved on to a new challenge. As of April 1st she is starting her new job in the pharmaceutical industry at ‘Lek d.d., a Sandoz company’. We wish her all the best and look forward to her PhD defense on April 25th.


From left to right: Matija Uršič, Tanja Lipec, Sara Seršen, Iztok Turel, Jakob Kljun, Špela Peršič

We did it again! 2015 – A year in retrospect.

A record year again, as far as the stats go for the Turel group. Data are still coming in (and will be for some time) but we have set the bar higher for ‘Sum of times cited’ according to Web of Science (on Feb. 24th) with 381 citations in 2015. The year 2015 has been fairly productive for the Turel group with:

  • 9 scientific papers,
  • 1 book chapter (upcoming),
  • 1 editorial (http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/20/5/7951)
  • 10 conference abstracts/posters
  • 4 invited lectures (Iztok Turel: Ruđer Boškovič Institute, Zagreb, Croatia; Nanjing University, Nanjing, PR China; Soochow University, Soochow, PR China; Jakob Kljun: Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ljubljana)
  • 3 BSc theses (Urška Bunta, Špela Peršič, Tadej Mernik)
  • Finalist (Top 5) of the ‘Mentor of the year 2015’ award
  • Successful application for a Slovenian-Serbian bilateral project with prof. M. Djuran research group from the University of Kragujevac, Serbia (special thanks to dr. Marija Živković)

We are also at a record-high group members with 1 post-doc researcher, 3 PhD students (albeit 2 on maternity leave), 2 MSc students, 1 Erasmus BSc student from Madrid, Spain and another 2 Slovenian BSc students.

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